The Lessons of Jack Raymond
He wasn’t the type of man to commit murder. Lombroso’s autopsies on criminals in the 19th century revealed 14 physiognomic characteristics common in all criminals: unusually short or tall; small head but large face; fleshy lips but a thin mean overlip; bushy eyebrows tending to meld in the middle of the forehead; strong jaw line… No, Jack Raymond thought as he carefully shaved the hairs bristling from his beaked nose, he failed in all those tests. He was a very ordinary man.
This was, however, an ordinariness of its time. Jack Raymond’s progeny were mainly illegitimate and their paternity somewhat unclear. For a man of the (social) sciences, he was surprisingly uninterested in genetic testing. This proved to be reasonably difficult for his Mother, but the children coped with it laudably.
He lectured at his local university in Chelmsford, a sprawling modern campus with a nature reserve, gym, open-access computer areas, beanbags, a simulation stock exchange, mock hospital wards, and ‘triple-grande-skinny-extra-hot-no-foam lattes’. Jack Raymond’s middling academic career began as a hedonistic undergraduate in the post-92 era, where for want of anything better to do, he continued his studies into Victorian criminology measuring the advancing years semester by semester, trimester by trimester, until his lectures became as tired as his clichéd corduroy jacket.
So although Jack Raymond had spent his career analysing the motives of the morally degenerate, there was nobody alive who would describe this ordinary man as a cold-blooded killer. But people have the habit of surprising those who know them best, and no two people could have been more astonished to find themselves in the boot of Jack Raymond’s battered Ford Focus than his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend. The irrefutable fact of their demise slipped his mind as he repeated a well-worn lecture on Jack the Ripper to a small group of undergraduates.
“How was it,” he asked, “that Jack the Ripper was never apprehended?”
“People were looking for the myth,” said one lanky youth stretching in his chair. “A shadowy cloaked figure with a bag of knives but not an ordinary man. One you’d pass unnoticed in the street.”
Jack Raymond puffed up with pride, “Excellent point, I see you’ve read my book.” He failed to notice the student smirking to his friend and shaking his head.
As the students escaped on the dot of ten to the hour, Jack Raymond turned to the window gazing onto the River Chelmer, mist clinging to the reeds like a scene from the old East End. He felt hot but his skin was cool. The window yielding a glimmer of breeze from the fancy ventilation panels. He could tell his students facts, hypotheses and musings, but they would never understand the true motivations of these shadowy figures of the past. Jack Raymond, however, was a real expert. Whilst his fellow lecturers in the faculties of business, health and science pushed forward with new knowledge, he delved deeper and deeper into the back catalogue of crimes committed by the long dead and mostly forgotten.
There was no satisfaction to be gained from understanding modern criminals. Too obvious; too crude. Criminal methods drawing too much attention. Bullets that slough away flesh, online patterns of behaviour mined, balaclavas on CCTV cameras and traceable documents on open borders. There was no swish of a cape. A mysterious vanishing trick.
Jack Raymond was not just an expert. He was appreciative of an art form. The shapes and forms of the bodies. The colours and textures of their hair and clothes against the nylon-carpeted interior. The way their state had altered from being part of everyday life to something else, somehow less real.
Did Jack Raymond feel he had committed a crime? He certainly would not have agreed to the label of cold-blooded killer although some would say murder was entirely understandable, faced with the relentless drudge of the academic year, module evaluations and student surveys that cut deep, marking, moderation, assessment panels, forms, processes, unworkable systems, and student after student after swishy-haired student.
To be called a cold-blooded killer would have required a body. Some might claim that Jack Raymond had two but although he was certain his ex-wife and one-time lover were bound and gagged in an airless compartment, aggravatingly far from the campus due to sustainability carbon-neutral policies limiting the number of car park spaces, he could not be sure that they were dead. He just hadn’t looked. From his behaviour, no one on the university staff or student body would have seen any difference in him, well not for the last 20 years.
And so to the crime…
His Ripper theory had yielded a number of research papers, 3 star, disappointing in their contribution to the latest research funding wave. A short book from his PhD had recently been withdrawn due to low sales but was still available in the library – 1 paper copy only. Ripper, the ordinary man, unseen but seen, did not fit the media stereotype and evaded capture.
Backing up this theory was the Victorian’s pseudoscience, ‘anthropometry’ allowing them to point the finger at suspects with particular traits in their body shape. The Ripper’s had not given him away. It was certainly acknowledged the investigation had been botched, but who was to say the array of suspects had included the real culprit? What if, he surmised, he was a man who had never come to the attention of the police, had committed no crimes, did not beat his wife, nor display lewd or drunken behaviour in the streets? Someone of professional standing, trusted, experienced, mature, some might say attractive to women…
At the heart of Jack Raymond’s theory was that a century later, with all his research into the police investigation, and his analysis of their mistakes and missed opportunities, he was in no better position to name the murderer or the real motivation. “Sheer brilliance from a criminal mastermind,” he wrote in his online blog.
Despite Jack Raymond’s general lack of interest in modern science, he asked himself, with the development of forensics and the advancement in policing, could his version of the Ripper remain at large in contemporary society? An untested theory.
Of course, his modern ordinariness meant that his ex-wife and ex-lover were known to each other. They would have coffee once a week bonding over his ineptitude at fatherhood. Their children were at school together. It was a friendship of convenience or spitefulness, he thought, but in the end he saved time by visiting most of the children at the one house, the one he still paid for in Broomfield.
On the sixth time of spying on them, testing his resolve, he realised that his neighbours were used to seeing his car at the front of the house and of course being ‘seen’ was his hypothesis. He scolded himself for being so slow on the theoretical uptake.
He waved cheerfully at a neighbour cutting his front hedge as he drove into the non-descript cul-de-sac to the front door, reversing carefully. “Let me be seen,” he thought grinning inanely at the veteran gardener. The two women were not especially pleased to see him during school hours without the excuse of visiting rights but the scolding stopped when they were safely packed in the boot. If this was all there was to it, he pondered, his journal article would require some serious padding – an extended literature review should do it.
As he shut the front door, he called out a pleasant goodbye for effect, then reversed expertly out of the drive and past the hospital. He had parked his car for an exorbitant fee, traipsed down an A and a B road, grabbed an overpriced cardboard cup of froth, and was sipping it in his open-plan office for 50 in ample time for his first lecture at 11am. He had a few minutes to add some notes to his working paper and congratulate himself on his hypothesis.
The fundamental difference between Jack Raymond’s choice of victims and his namesake was their standing in society. The Ripper picked women he viewed to have little value, prostitutes operating at gutter level. Objects that yielded to the sharp swish of a knife. Raymond selected his sample like he chose his supermarket, through pure convenience. Despite his expertise, he always fell down on the methodology. And so it was this convenience, the lack of attention to detail, that proved to be his downfall. At 3.30pm, Jack Raymond received a phone call from the local school. No one had arrived to pick up the children, most peculiar they said, could he come? Jack Raymond barely remembered the morning’s events – his mind was preoccupied by higher things.
He got into his ordinary car and drove to the school where a sympathetic teacher waited with the children, PE bags and a cereal box Viking village. Without thinking, he opened the boot. All eyes turned on the man who many people would be surprised to discover was a cold-blooded killer.
Copyright the author, Cheryl Greyson
The Lessons of Jack Raymond came second in the Essex Book Festival Crime Writing Short Story Competition 2016.
The views and opinions expressed in these stories are those of the authors. These are works of fiction: Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or/and used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.